You're facing down the big day and strategizing for a great race. Is it hot? Dry? Where will you be in transition? Are there tricky spots on the bike course? How much climbing will there be and where? How much water should you be drinking? Are the aid stations spaced so you can refill? How many gels should you bring? What about salt?
Yeah, the mind of an athlete has a lot going on the days before a big race. Especially an IRONMAN triathlete! We see it at every event - people so zoned in to their race that they might forget to notice if you were wearing a clown's nose on your face! We love it. The intensity, the focus, is epic. But, like anything epic, the planning is key to success.
As Official Bike Shop of IRONMAN North America, Bikes and Life has a unique perspective on what goes wrong out on the course. We're there to help when you get a flat or drop your chain but we're also there to help when we see riders in trouble - wobbling from dehydration, needing some encouragement, or ready to call it quits. We are proud to be able to get these riders back on the bike, motivated, and set back towards the finish line.
The synthesis of all this interaction with athlete's out on the course has led us to develop a Save Your Race clinic tailored towards the needs of beginners to intermediate triathletes (and even some of the seasoned athletes who may not have great habits). We share the top things that go wrong out on the bike course and how to avoid them through a little forward thinking, preparation, and strategy. Let's dive in (or get rolling if you prefer)!
Not surprisingly, the number one issue out on the bike course is flat tires. But these aren't always unfortunate accidents - many times they can be avoided. Here's a few ways to avoid flats and get back on the road more quickly:
Start with fresh tires! Tires may in fact be the single most influential factor in your performance on course. You literally can't do anything without them. Many people look at us funny when we say to put new tires on the bike. "These are fine." They say. Sure, they're fine, but after all the preparation to get to the race - the time, the sacrifice, the training - don't you want to give yourself the highest chance of success on road possible? Here are a few way's racing on used tires will slow you down and put you at risk of a puncture:
- Old tires actually become less and less flexible over time. This causes the rubber to become brittle and more likely to crack. Cracks collect dirt and grit, which wear their way into the tire and eat away at your tubes. No good!
- Old tires also slow you down - as they become more and more inflexible they actually resist your forward motion more and more. This is called Rolling Resistance. It's one of the reasons why old tires or poor quality tires feel one way (bad) and new race tires feel like butter - or greased lighting - or a magic carpet - or free speed!
- Do you train indoors on your tires? Take a close look. Training tires tend to get a flat spot in the middle all the way around the tire. That flat spot has been worn into the tire from your trainer or rollers or whatever you're using. That not only makes you more prone to punctures - it also makes your bike far less stable in turns and on wet surfaces. Not fun. Swap out your trainers for a new set of fresh racers!
- Old tires become worn and are thinner than new tires - duh! Fresh tires will have a higher resistance to punctures.
- We always recommend adding a good tire sealant like Vittoria Pit Stop to any tubes in order to prevent a small puncture from stopping you on the course. It's very easy to use and we can even put it in for you if you're uncertain. Tire sealant is a great insurance policy against flat tires on the course.
What are the best racing tires for Triathletes? We recommend Continental GP4000ii or Vittoria Corsa Comp tires. These tires are fast, light, and highly puncture resistant. Swap these on and your bike will ride like new - or better!
What you climb up, you must come back down, and be in control on the decent! Brake set up is your number one priority for safety on the course but when not set up right even a good set of brakes can slow you down at the wrong time!
- Bike Alignment - Brakes need to be properly aligned left and right for a smooth and even braking force to be applied. This is typically something a mechanic would do for you and we check this as a matter of course during all of bike services.
- Brakes Touching The Rim - Too often we talk to people after a race cursing their brakes for touching the rim. This is so easy to fix ahead of time and can related to either the brakes themselves, the wheel alignment within the frame, or even the wheel itself. It may also happen when you swap in a new set of carbon race wheels. Race wheels tend to be wider than standard ones and if you don't adjust the brakes accordingly it can undermine the entire point of getting those fancy race wheels in the first place!
- Brakes Are Worn Out - When your brake pads are worn out... well that's the worst problem of all. You may still be able to slow down but it's difficult to come to a full stop or effectively modulate your speed while descending or entering turns on the course. This is just plain unsafe and completely unnecessary. When you bring your bike to Bikes and Life we will check your brake pads for free and tell you with certainty whether you are set with what you have or whether you're in need of a new set of pads.
We recommend that every athlete assembles and carries their own flat repair and basic maintenance kit - and learns how to use it. Here's your simple shopping list for a lightweight yet effective Triathlon On Bike Repair Kit:
- 1 Tube - Especially if you have a funny size tire like 650b. We always bring spares on our race support vehicles but not all support crews will be as prepared as Bikes and Life. Having your own tube ensures you're ready.
- 1 Set Tire Levers - Topeak makes a great set called the Shuttle Lever. These are two levers that snap together, one is used to pry open the tire, one keeps the tire open, and then the first one is used to kick it off the rest of the rim. They work great.
- 1 CO2 Inflation Kit - This would be the CO2 cartridge itself (we recommend a usually a 16G threaded cartridge) as well as a chuck to connect the cartridge to the valve on the tube. There are several options but we prefer either the Topeak AirBooster which actually comes as a kit with CO2 included or the X-Lab SpeedChuck. Both are super high quality and will last a lifetime.
- 1 or 2 CO2 Cartridges - 16g Threaded Cartridges are the most common for bicycle tire inflation and are perfect for the kits recommended above. One note - you can't fly with these! So, be sure to pick some up on-site at the Bikes and Life tent!
- 1 Seat Bag to hold it all together - There are lots of good options but we prefer something simple that fits everything without fuss. Recommendation: X-Lab Mezzo Bag or X-Lab Mini Bag, or if you want something a little more slick looking the Topeak DynaWedge.
Now, let's not forget about hydration out there. Hydration is critical. That's where you'll want to look into something that is not only good for carrying water but also easy to access while sitting on the bike. Let's be clear - by easy we mean safe. When you're taking your hands off the bar or your eyes off the road, your safety level goes down, no matter how good you are.
Here are a few ways to maximize your safety while at the same time optimizing your water intake through proper convenient on bike hydration:
- Use an X-Lab Torpedo Aero Water Bottle to put the water where you want it without making your handlebars a disorganized mess. These Torpedos are amazing and hugely popular. They consist of an attachment to mount the torpedo shaped water bottle to the aerobars so it's right in front of your face, the Torpedo bottle itself, compact and aerodynamic yet very high capacity, and a mount for your cycle computer with attachments specific to Garmin as well as others. You drink from a straw that can be clipped down so it wont bother you while riding and you refill through a flip top right on top of the torpedo bottle itself. Super easy. Super safe.
- The next thing you'll want - especially as you get into longer Full IRONMAN distances - is additional water storage on the bike. There are two places to put it: on the bottle cages above the pedals or right behind the seat. You can make arguments for both ways:
- Standard placement above the pedals - These bottles are easily seen and you can reach down to grab them fairly easily. Most riders are used to them. However, they do slow you down a little bit through some aerodynamic resistance. On high end bikes or smaller frames you may be limited to just one bottle however. If you want to go this way but don't want to sacrifice your aerodynamic advantage, go with an aero water bottle like the X-Lab Aero TT Bottle. It's super slick so it wont slow you down and - a plus - it looks super cool on the bike too!
Placement behind the seat - This is what you'll see a lot of the pros and more "serious" age group riders doing. Why? Well, it allows you to carry more water and it hides the bottles behind your but, out of the airflow, and maximizes your aerodynamic efficiency. For small frames and high end bikes, it allows you to store more water on the bike - up to two bottles attached to the back of the seat!
The best bottle cages for use behind the seat are from X-Lab. They are designed to prevent the bottle from "ejecting" when you hit a bump by being extra grippy and steadfast. We recommend the X-Lab Gorilla or Gorilla XT. These bottles are used by top athletes and pros to securely hold their water bottle in place behind the seat.
There's a whole lot more to go into in terms of proper nutrition products and strategy as well as how to actually time your drinking properly to maintain good hydration levels on the course. But hey, we can't do it all in one sitting. Check back often for more Pro Tips from the team here at Bikes and Life, Race Day Service!